The Philadelphia Eagles are set to host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. In order to preview this Week 4 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Big Cat Country. The radiant Ryan O’Bleness took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to Ryan’s questions about the Eagles, check out BCC.]
Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have all of the odds for this week’s games.
1 - Old friend Doug Pederson has the Jags off to a good start! What’s your impression of him so far? Likes and dislikes?
Honestly, I am personally becoming a big fan, thus far, and I think many Jaguars fans feel the same way. That is due in large part to Pederson’s efforts to try to change the losing culture in Jacksonville. It’s also thanks to the schemes and game plans Pederson and his staff have drawn up to maximize what this team does well. He is an aggressive play-caller, particularly on fourth down. He is also helping quarterback Trevor Lawrence unlock his full potential, which bodes really well for the trajectory of this team.
There is still a lot to prove, obviously, and the Jaguars are still in rebuild mode (for like the 15th year in a row, outside of 2017), but it seems like Pederson has expedited that process. He has his players bought in, and although it’s a young team, it is a very confident group.
As far as dislikes, obviously there are some things that need to be shored up, and there are maybe some players I would like to see get more opportunities (particularly Tyler Shatley on the interior of the offensive line on a more rotational basis, although the o-line has held up really well over the past two games), but nothing really major sticks out to me yet.
As far as I know, he is still beloved by Eagles fans after bringing the city its first Super Bowl championship. It is easy to see why an entire fan base can get behind him.
2 - Trevor Lawrence has been really good the past two weeks. What do you attribute that to and to what extent do you expect him to keep it up?
Well, a lot of it has to do with Pederson and the game plan — getting Lawrence on the move, getting the ball out of Lawrence’s hands quickly, taking what is available in the short and intermediate passing game, good protection from the offensive line, etc. However, a lot of it also also has to do with Lawrence playing confident football and using his superb skill set to surgically pick defenses apart. Lawrence was one of the most highly-touted quarterback prospects to ever enter the league, and now we are starting to see why. He is blossoming into one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks and delivering on all of the potential and promise that scouts drooled over prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.
So far this season, Lawrence has completed 77 out of 111 passes (69.4 percent) for 772 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception. He also has a quarterback rating of 103.1.
I mentioned he is getting the ball out of his hands incredibly quickly. Against the Chargers, Lawrence averaged just 2.39 seconds from snap to throw, according to the NFL’s Next Gen stats, and he’s been very precise in doing so.
Trevor Lawrence averaged a career-low 2.39 seconds time to throw in the Jaguars 38-10 victory over the Chargers.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 25, 2022
Lawrence was efficient on quick passes (less than 2.5 seconds), completing 19 of 23 attempts for 162 yards & TD (+9.4 passing EPA).#JAXvsLAC | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/8GIyCksk9U
If you look at Lawrence’s passing chart over the past couple of weeks, you will notice he doesn’t take a lot of shots downfield. Instead, he finds holes in the defense, hits the openings, takes what the defense gives him, protects the football and sustains drives. As a rookie, he would often lock into one receiver, not go through his reads and force things, which led to turnovers. He has not done that over the past two games.
With Lawrence, he really struggled as a rookie, but you have to understand how impossible of a situation he was thrown into with Urban Meyer as his head coach and very limited talent on the roster. Now, with a bonafide NFL head coach in Pederson, better protection from the offensive line and more playmakers surrounding him — such as Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones Jr., James Robinson, Travis Etienne Jr. and Evan Engram — Lawrence has been able to show off what he can do. Although he is young, he is looked up to as a team leader and captain, and he commands the entire team.
The future looks bright for Lawrence. I am not sure if he can keep his level of play up quite this high for the entire season, but he just needs to keep his play consistent, continue to take care of the ball and sustain drives (even if the drive aren’t ending in points, make sure they’re not ending in turnovers as often as possible). If he can do that, at minimum, the Jaguars will be set up for success.
3 - What is the Jaguars’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
Jacksonville has been surprisingly strong in multiple facets thus far. The Jaguars are actually the only team in the NFL to rank in the top-five for both offense and defense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics through three weeks, ranking second overall, fifth in offense and fourth in defense.
I would say the Jaguars’ biggest strength right now is the defensive unit’s ability to stop the run. Jacksonville’s run defense currently ranks first in the NFL. The Jaguars have allowed a total of just 165 rushing yards through three games, which equates to an average of 55 rushing yards per game for the opposition. The Jaguars also rank seventh in the league total defense (306.7 yards allowed per game).
Another big strength of the team has been generating takeaways and limiting giveaways. The Jaguars rank first in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-seven (+7). Jacksonville is tied for the league lead in takeaways with eight (five interceptions and three fumble recoveries). Offensively, the Jaguars have only turned the ball over one time this season.
Offensively, the Jaguars currently rank sixth in total offense (375.7 yards per game), and rank in the top-10 in both rushing offense (123.3 yards per game) and passing offense (252.3 yards per game). There haven’t been many areas in which the team has struggled in.
Defensively, I think the plan should be to force the Eagles — statistically the best offense in the NFL (447 yards per game) — to be one-dimensional. That is easier said than done against a unit as well-balanced as Philadelphia’s, but the Jaguars cannot afford to let the Eagles click on all cylinders or else it will be a long day. While I do think Jalen Hurts and his offense can take advantage of the Jaguars in the passing game, the key matchup will be on the ground. As mentioned, the Jaguars have the top-ranked run defense right now, while Philly has the seventh-ranked rushing attack (150.3 yards per game). The Jaguars need to neutralize Miles Sanders and Hurts on the ground, and contain the passing game as best it can.
The Jaguars will need to get pressure on Hurts, but also keep him contained if he decides to run the football, which he is very effective at. Hurts will likely hit some big throws in the passing game, but Jacksonville can’t allow Hurts to torch its defense through both the air and the ground.
On offense, the Jaguars are facing a tough pass defense as Philly ranks sixth in the league in passing yards allowed (186.7). With that said, I don’t think the game plan changes much for Lawrence and Jacksonville — get Lawrence on the move, find the holes in the short and intermediate passing game, take what the defense gives you, don’t force things and don’t give the ball away. The Jaguars’ offensive line will also need to keep pressure off of Lawrence. These are simple things, but paramount for the Jaguars if they plan to steal a road win against an undefeated team.
This should be a fun matchup.
4 - What is the Jaguars’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
If the Eagles want to beat the Jaguars, go to the air and attack the middle of the defense. Test the safeties on deep balls. While the Jags have been strong in run defense, the pass defense ranks 21st (351.7 yards per game allowed), so it can be exploited.
I am not sure how much success the Eagles will have in the run game against this defense, but as I mentioned above, if Jacksonville can make Philadelphia one-dimensional on offense, it will be better set up to win. So I think Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni and his staff still need to mix in some runs and play-action passes to keep Jacksonville honest, even if it isn’t very fruitful.
Defensively, Philadelphia will also want to pressure Lawrence, disguise coverages pre-snap and mix up the coverages throughout the game. Don’t allow him to get comfortable and just pick apart the same look every time — this was the mistake the Indianapolis Colts made in Week Two.
Although, getting to Lawrence is easier said than done. The Jaguars have allowed just two sacks this season, tied for the fewest allowed in the league, and have not allowed a single sack in either of the past two games. Tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson have played really well on the outside, while right guard Brandon Scherff is looking like his old All-Pro self. Left guard Ben Bartch and rookie center Luke Fortner have had some ups and downs, but look to be improving throughout the season thus far. However, Philadelphia is second in the NFL with 12 sacks. So, as always, this game will be won and lost in the trenches, and the Eagles’ pass rushers versus the Jaguars’ offensive linemen will be a key matchup to watch.
5 - Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 7-point favorites, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Jags season?
I think the Philadelphia Eagles may be the most complete team in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. I think this is going to be a tough game on the road for an inexperienced Jaguars team, but one thing I can be sure of is that Pederson will have his squad ready and the players won’t back down. I expect a competitive game, and a relatively close game, but I also expect Hurts and company to be just a little bit too much for Jacksonville’s young group, despite the lights out defensive effort the team has displayed thus far. I think the Eagles win and cover by just enough. I am thinking of a final score in the range of 28-20.
As far as the rest of the season, I believe the Jaguars are going to exceed a lot of preseason expectations and compete to win a very weak AFC South Division. I am not 100 percent sold yet that Jacksonville is a true playoff contender, but I expect the team to be in the mix in December and January. I still think this team is a year or two away from truly being a threat in the AFC, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Jaguars end up with nine or 10 wins this season (coming into the season, I figured this was a seven-win team at best).
Given Jacksonville’s performance through three weeks, though, Jaguars fans are feeling quite optimistic, and for good reason. There is a lot of football to be played still, and it will be interesting to see if the Jaguars can keep up this level of play. At the very least, this team will be competitive in just about every game.